collaboration


I read Wikinomics for a class this summer, but this time around I couldn’t help but think of Facebook’s new applications. Earlier this year, Facebook opened up their website so that people and companies could add applications and users could add them to their profiles.

I find the influx of Facebook applications and their popularity to be absolutely amazing. Facebook was already popular as it was–in a way, it was a giant collaborative effort where every member had their own profile, participated in groups, and had multiple networks of friends, family, classmates, and colleagues. But what Facebook had obviously wasn’t enough. The Facebook Applications show the need for more–more interaction, more collaboration, and having some kind of impact on the wikinomony (wiki+economy). In August alone, over 14 million users used the various Facebook applications.

14 million users…but how successful has it actually been? A closer look at the long tail shows that a very small number of Facebook’s applications have even been successful. Regardless of this fact, however, stands the notion that the very idea of Facebook third party applications are necessary to keep Facebook alive amidst the sea of Wikinomics.

Tapscott and Williams rightfully argue in Wikinomics that the “heart of MySpace is the personalized profile. Members fill them with interests, tastes, and values, supplemented by music, photos, and video clips that make their profiles even more appealing.” (p. 29) Facebook went from having more static pages with fairly basic questions to adopting the MySpace way of social networking. Customizing facebook pages with the third party applications is where the bar is, and Facebook sought to surpass it.

I think that Facebook’s pursuit of the third party applications is exactly what has brought its value up over the past six months. In September of 2007, Microsoft bought out 1.6% of Facebook for $240 million, meaning the actual price of Facebook is billions of dollars. Had Facebook remained the way it was–sans third party applications–I doubt their numbers would be able to go that high.

Wikinomics stresses that collaboration is happening not only on a social or social networking level, but more importantly on an economic level. The four basic ideas of Wikinomics–peering, sharing, openness, and acting globally–are all evident in Facebook and its new applications. Non-Facebook third party application developers are the very essence of crowdsourcing and mass collaboration.

So what does this mean for the future of Facebook? Wikinomics is the name of the game, and Facebook has to continue to allow Facebook applications to enter their space. But when is too many Facebook aplications simply. . .too much? There is already an overload and the long tail has already made itself noticeable. Facebook must stay on top of mass collaboration to stay ahead of their competitors and thrive in the market.

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Gone are the days of one way memos and letters from companies to customers; ushered in is an era of two way communication and consumer feedback. This has become the crux of the internet revolution.

Scoble and Israel’s Naked Conversations tap into the online phenomenon of blogging for business. According to the authors, businesses can benefit exceptionally from this method of communication.

Scoble and Israel list six pillars of successful blogging:

  1. Publishable: the consumer has the ability and freedom to publish their voice
  2. Conversational/social: a two-way method of creating and sustaining a dialogue
  3. Findable: the information on the blog is indexed in search engines
  4. Viral/Shareable: making things shareworthy; information that is spread through multiple blogs
  5. Syndicatable: RSS friendly
  6. Linkable: the ability to link to other bloggers

SpreadFirefox, or SFX, is a great example of taking a marketing campaign and letting it excel through blogs. Just a few years ago, Mozilla Firefox was a no name company attempting to make their internet browser the new Microsoft Explorer. Through the SpreadFirefox campaign, they were able to use the six pillars of a successful blog to let the internet browser spread organically through cyberspace. The success of SFX is attributed to sustainable word-of-mouth and not to buzz marketing; the difference between the two shows a marked difference between SFX and other followers that unsuccessfully tried to spread their initiatives organically as well. Companies have been made or broken in the past few years, depending on their ability (or inability) to blog.

Microsoft started a blog called Channel 9 to help humanize their big company. Channel 9 fosters a sense of community among Microsoft employees and customers alike, and encourages an ongoing conversation and a collaborative wiki that users can participate in. This discussion forum model has been extremely popular, with all sorts of users participating on the website. The most successful blogs seem to be those that deliver information to consumers, while also allowing customers to contribute to the conversation. This allows for a dynamic exchange and sets a platform for feedback and support. As Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba discuss in Citizen Marketers, it is this exchange between the company and the consumers that generates the power and importance of citizen marketers.

CEO blogging has also flourished in the past few years. Corporate blogging is the pipeline of success between a company and their consumer. Companies from GM to Whole Foods have all actively engaged in this level of blogging by putting their CEOs at the forefront of their image. CEO blogs are the closest that people will get to seeing the face of the company–the importance of corporate blogs shouldn’t go unnoticed.

There are so many aspects to business blogs–whether it’s a CEO blogging about the daily goings on of a company, the spread of new initiatives and ideas through viral blogging, or creating a platform for developers, employees, and consumers to get together, business blogging has proved that communication is a two way street.

It’s no surprise that the National Gallery of Art wants to update their website and make their overall approach more savvy to Web 2.0 criteria. The problem, however, lies in keeping the museum a distinguished figure in the art arena while also making it something that people of all ages and backgrounds can enjoy.

NGA should allow collaboration on their website—without totally losing control. In doing so, they are the content holders even if they are not always the content creators. They can also use outside sources—such as a YouTube channel or a Flickr gallery—to get people to contribute their own videos.

This means that NGA should use crowdsourcing to a certain degree. They’re not relinquishing total control, but they’re still allowing museum goers to interact with the art and product their own.

Michael Sikorsky elaborates on this idea by saying that “crowdsourcing is the distinction between the wisdom of crowds and the participation of crowds. Not a lot of people separate these two but I try to separate them a lot. Sometimes you do not want both.”

In NGA’s case, they need to couple the idea of crowdsourcing with communications professionals at the museum. The communications pros can provide the necessary channels for museum goers to participate online while not creating their own material. It’s a tricky balance, but if the gallery aims to be up to par with their competitors it’s a necessary step.

Once the foundation of Web 2.0 is established for NGA’s new website, they need to make sure that people are eager and willing to collaborate. Angelo Sotira details the Deviant Art website and how it evolved into the artist community that it is today. Deviant Art is now one of the largest art forums on the web. Artists of all kinds come together in this outlet to express themselves.

Deviant Art may solve the problem that NGA could have in terms of controlling the content that people contribute to the website or other channels. Crowdsourcing gets difficult—unless people come to understand what to contribute. According to Sotira, the cultural context determines what is acceptable:

“And what it comes down to is culture, because our culture dictates what is and what isn’t okay. Our culture sort of decides who is and who isn’t a great artist. Our culture decides on some level if something does or doesn’t belong here. It’s not very overt, but you will get a general sense of acceptance or rejection if you submit certain things.”

Hopefully the contributors to the National Gallery of Art website will recognize what to collaborate on and what to share, while also having the help of the museum to moderate the content. NGA has the potential to exceed the standards of their competitors. It’s a tricky balance, but one that NGA should definitely experiment with.

If you think that Second Life members are just “users,” then the authors of Wikinomics would have to disagree with you. According to Tapscott and Williams, Second Life members are “prosumers.” These prosumers “participate in the design, creation, and production of the product, while Linden Labs is content to manage the community to make sure the infrastructure is running” (p. 125). In other words, they make user-generated content.

Residents create most of the content—not Linden Lab. This empowers each member to build avatars, houses, relationships, and essentially, a second life than can differ from their real one as much as they want. There are about 8.5 million members, with approximately 1.6 million that have logged on in the past two months. When you compare these figures to other social networks like MySpace or Facebook, it doesn’t seem like Second Life is such a big deal. But…countries have opened embassies in Second Life to boost their image. Esteemed universities like Harvard and Stanford are teaching online classes in this alternate world. Brands are selling their products to raise interest to those members that actually log on. What is it about Second Life that makes the trendsetters stumble after it?

Tapscott and Williams think the answer is “prosumption,” and that Second Life is so successful because it relies on the following key points (p. 148):

  • More than customization: rather than being mass customized to tailor to a group of people, Second Life allows each user to build an alternative identity and even use Linden Dollars ($270 Linden Dollars to $1 US Dollar) to mold the lifestyle.
  • Losing control: Linden Labs proudly states that they have little content on Second Life. These enables the members to treat Second Life as their own platform with seemingly infinite freedom.
  • Customer tool kits and context orchestration: Second Life hit the jackpot in making their product “modular, reconfigurable, and editable” (p. 148). This user-friendly nature of Second Life enables anybody to log on, funnel in some money, and use the materials available to them to create their identity.
  • Becoming a peer: This is fueled by treating the members like peers rather than customers. Second Life is successful with this in that Linden Labs only controls 1% of the content—this puts the ultimate power in the hands of the members.
  • Sharing the fruits: Members of Second Life feel ownership and entitlement of their virtual products. Members can buy and sell products, and therefore have a stake in Second Life.

It’s hard to determine where Second Life is going to be in the future. I’m baffled by the idea of an alternate identity to begin with—don’t social networks like Facebook and MySpace reinforce your personal identity and image by displaying your own interests, activities, education info, pictures, friends…? Personally, I’m a fan of this website that I came across: Get A First Life, a spoof on Second Life. Number of total members? Oh, about 6.5 billion.

Despite it’s criticisms and backlash, there are still loyal supporters to Second Life that believe in its general purpose and future. These prosumers will be the ones that determine the potential success of Second Life in the years and months to come.

“Critics of the blogosphere claim that the vast new wilderness of voices adds more noise to an overly saturated media environment. With over 50 million blogs, 1.5 million blog posts daily, and a new blog created every second, you’d think they have a point. But ultimately their critique is trite.”
Wikinomics, p. 40

Well, here’s my warning: I’m one of those critics.

Throughout this course, I’ve been open minded while also wondering: doesn’t this kind of collaboration just seem to be organized chaos? I discussed this a few weeks ago in this blog, and I can’t help but still feel bewildered. Either some of you will agree with me, or some of you will think I am completely off my rocker (I think, given the title of this course, it will be the latter).

Up until June, I had never heard of Flickr or del.icio.us (I think I just heard an audible gasp echoing throughout the blogosphere). I’m still a proud user of Webshots (password protected, thank you very much), my personal Apple bookmarking folder, and pretty much keeping my online personality private. My Facebook friends are the only ones able to see my profile and pictures. In fact, when my friends send around pictures of invitations, they do so through Snapfish or Evite—not Flickr or Upcoming. I think the majority of them haven’t even heard of the latter.

All I’m saying is this: as a 22-year old female who is college educated, receiving a masters education, and seems to be on the fringe of what’s “hip”, there’s a lot about the online world that even I don’t know about—and my friends tease me about being in the know. Imagine all those people out there that have absolutely no idea about this stuff. Sure, we check out Wikipedia and Facebook, but our own collaboration is minimal. There are those of us that want some kind of anonymity online—I don’t want people looking at my pictures from my recent trip to Charleston with my friends, or other students I don’t know within my UVA network on Facebook to check out my favorite books and interests. All this exposure leaves little to be desired.

Of course I understand the amazing potential for our world online in terms of marketing, social media, and public relations. But…where does it come to more of a standstill? The whole thing currently seems like such a flurry of information. I get overwhelmed if I am away from my computer all day and even attempt to check New York Times or even Perez Hilton (hey, we all get our guilty pleasures). With everything just SO constantly updated, what do you do if you—god forbid—miss a day? An afternoon? Even an hour or two?

What I took away from Wikinomics is that virtually EVERYBODY is collaborating—everybody suddenly has a Harry Potter magic wand of empowerment, and we are all exchanging information by being open, peering, sharing, and acting globally. What I think, however, is that so many of us are still hesitant.